World Bank Leadership
By Alex Wilks
21 February , 2005
Foreign Policy In Focus
Good governance. Consultation. Participation.
You would be a millionaire
if you had a dollar for every time a World Bank official has mentioned
these words. Unfortunately, the selection process for the top post at
the World Bank completely ignores these principles.
Right now, there
is a vacancy for the most senior post in official world development
circles, a job that is of direct interest to billions of people across
the globe. The process and candidates are shrouded in secrecy and the
only candidates in the running are U.S. citizens.
critics regularly point out the gaps between its rhetoric and reality.
But the fact that three White House staffers are responsible for drawing
up the short list exposes particularly clearly how tightly the U.S.
government controls the institution. Under a gentlemans agreement
from the 1940s the World Bank head and International Monetary Fund (IMF)
deputy head are always U.S. citizens, while the head of the IMF is a
European. The efforts to open up this system have come to nothing as
neither side of the Atlantic has an incentive to be the first to make
Among the early
favored candidates on the rumor-mill were Colin Powell, Robert Zoellick,
and even Bill Clinton. Powell was clearly out of favor with the Bush
administration, however. He was reportedly not offered the Bank as a
dignified escape route from State Department. Zoellick took a different
career move, and is Condoleezza Rices deputy at the State Department.
Clinton was always a long-shot under a Republican administration. Some
commentators, however, say Bush could achieve a couple of objectives
by promoting Clinton for the Bank position. First, it would be a boon
for bipartisanship. Second, it might cramp Hillarys style if she
runs for U.S. president in 2008.
As the World Bank
succession rumors abound, its credibility suffers.
Meritocracy is absent.
There is no clear process for selecting this position of global importance.
It is not just outsiders who do not know what is happening. The World
Bank Staff Association formally requested an opportunity to feed into
the process of selecting a candidate. It was rapidly rebuffed by the
alternative U.S. representative on the Banks executive board,
Bob Holland. Holland , a Bush "pioneer" who raised at least
$100,000 for the 2000 election campaign claimed hollowly: "the
World Bank's presidential nomination process is being conducted in a
fashion that preserves the World Bank's mission of reducing poverty
through sustained growth and promoting responsible international development."
(Read the letter: http://www.worldbankpresident.org/archives/SA_Holland_Response.jpeg)
Even James Wolfensohn,
the outgoing Bank president, seems to doubt his influence or insights
into the process. He told Bank staff at a meeting in late January that
he had shared "everything that was on his mind" with U.S.
Treasury Secretary John Snow, but that he was not certain if his views
would carry any weight. He even said that he had taken to his lunch
with Snow a print-out of www.worldbankpresident.org, a website established
to scrutinize the process. He told Bank staff: "if any of you want
to be up to date on the inside scoop, check worldbankpresident.org,
and you'll probably know as much as I do."
The funny thing
is that this site was established by myself and an old friend using
simple blogging technology on a shoe-string budget. And we, the authors,
are based in Belgium and Britain , thousands of miles away from Washington
. That has not stopped the Washington Post, Reuters, and Bank staff
from saying that it is the nearest thing to an open process for this
selection that exists.
The selection process
is not more open because no governments are standing up to Washington
. To date, no other government has proposed a candidate. One senior
developing-country diplomat in Washington . told me that no officials
from poor nations would challenge the process. It would mean taking
a diplomatic battle to the U.S. administration and also potentially
alienating an incoming Bank chief and so depriving their country of
You might think
that the Europeans would do something. But with the impending European
visit by President George W. Bush to try to mend fences for his second
term, many European governments are on their best behavior. Although
Tony Blair was this week prepared to stick his neck out slightly to
back UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, it appears that even the British
are not prepared to use their influence in Washington to ensure that
the Bank does not fall prey to an old pal of the U.S. president. Perhaps
it is because the Europeans are embarrassed that they did not open up
the selection of the IMF head last year. Despite a rebellion by over
half of the Executive Directors on the IMF board, the Europeans maintained
a tight hold on the IMF succession process, finally nominating Rodrigo
de Rato, former Spanish finance minister.
The latest indications
on candidates for the Banks top job are Peter McPherson, Nancy
Kassebaum-Baker, and Elaine Chao. McPherson was most recently Financial
Coordinator for Iraqi Reconstruction. He served with Dick Cheney in
the White House under President Gerald Ford. He was also Chairman of
the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the U.S. export credit
agency, then directed USAID in the Reagan administration. From 1987
to 1989 he was Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.
is a former U.S. senator. She currently serves on the British governments
Commission for Africa. Elaine Chao is the Secretary of Labor and a former
Peace Corps chief. The fact that Chao is married to influential Republican
senator Mitch McConnell would enable her to pursue World Bank fund-raising
on the hill more easily than some previous Bank presidents. U.S. political
connections should not, however, be the main criteria for choosing who
to fill an important executive post with power to spend over $20 billion
a year and to guide global thinking on development issues.
Under pressure from
civil society groups, the Bank has initiated transparency reforms in
recent years, with many more documents now available on its website.
But Bank board decisionmaking still takes place behind closed doors.
And now the Bank reforms of the past decade may be under threat from
an incoming boss. Claims that the Bank is a genuinely multilateral and
open institution are not compatible with the current charade of a selection.
It is flattering, but crazy, that one Bank staff member called our website--run
from Europe--the best effort to open this process to date.
Alex Wilks is Coordinator
of Eurodad: the European Network on Debt and Development (online at
© 2005 Foreign
Policy In Focus